There have been plenty of films about grumpy old men, including, of course, “Grumpy Old Men.” But you need a much stronger word to describe Servando Villegas, the cantankerous 85-year-old at the center of the winsome comedy “Un Padre No Tan Padre.”
Staff members at Servando’s assisted-living facility literally cower in fear when he looks for them. A timid male staffer named Rene is one of the recipients of his venom. “Sergio, Fernando, even Margarita is a more masculine name than Rene,” Servando spits out during a meal service. Then, he proceeds to beat another employee with his walking stick.
See? Told you he wasn’t nice.
Servando’s aggressive behavior, combined with a banking crisis that has left him penniless, results in his expulsion from the center. His four oldest children say they can’t accommodate him. Only Francisco, his youngest, agrees to take him in. But there are some surprises in store, for both father and son.
Francisco (nicely played by pop singer Benny Ibarra) has lied to his dad for years. Servando believes his son lives in Mexico City, works as a business consultant and is single with no children. In reality, Francisco resides in the artsy city of San Miguel de Allende and works as a landscape designer. He has lived with restaurant owner Alma (Jacqueline Bracamontes) for 12 years and has a teenage son from a previous relationship. Oh, and Servando’s grandson just happens to be named Rene.
Francisco and his family reside in Alma’s rambling house, which she inherited from her parents. That’s not all. There are eight additional people living there, co-op style — “a hippie commune!” Servando says in disgust. His new housemates include a gay couple, a Cuban musician, a single man from London, and Homero, who uses the shed behind the house to cultivate marijuana.
At times, the screenplay by newbie writer Alberto Bremer goes for the distressingly obvious: Gosh, do you think Servando will discover those marijuana brownies that are in the kitchen? But the film is usually smarter than that, with characters more layered than they initially appear. The gay couple is not as happy as they seem. Homero’s pot is used for more than simply partying.
In particular, it is compelling to see how the relationship between Francisco and Servando plays out. Francisco isn’t as bohemian and free-spirited as he likes to think — he’s the kind of guy who has a dream catcher hanging in his car — and that’s reflected in how he treats his girlfriend and his son. Gestures he sees as loving may not be interpreted that way, something Servando notices and recognizes.
Hector Bonilla, who is 77, plays Servando, and he’s great. His voice lowers to a whispery rasp when he’s annoyed, which is a good deal of the time. But he’s not a one-note character, full of bluster. The movie opens with a lovely sequence in which we see how he prepares for his day: He meticulously brushes out his mustache, adjusts his tie and slaps aftershave on his cheeks and his lapels. It’s a moment that says a lot about Servando without using any dialogue.
First-time director Raul Martinez drops nice touches like that throughout “Un Padre No Tan Padre,” a bit of Spanish wordplay that roughly means “A Not-Very-Good Father.” The characters are fully rounded, and you wind up emotionally invested in them. And while Martinez can misstep on occasion — did we really need a wedding-dance scene set to “We Are Family?” — he generally prefers a gentle, quirkier kind of humor and softer touch. That light approach makes the film’s emotional moments even more effective and disarming.
Randy Cordova, USA TODAY Network
Pantelion presents a film directed by Raul Martinez and written by Alberto Bremer. Rated PG-13 (for drug material, some language and partial nudity). In Spanish and English with English subtitles. Running time: 94 minutes. Opens Friday at local theaters.